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Survival 101: Conservation

Posted by on 2012/04/04

No shit, right?

We’re all somewhat familiar with stories of the Native Americans who treat the animals that they hunt with the utmost respect, using every part of the animal so that the sacrifice of the animal was not taken for granted. This was not a custom evolved from superstition into practice, but one evolved from necessity that was so vital it became revered.  They would use the hide for rope, clothing, and shelter, they would use the bones to make tools, the organs as food and medicine, the hooves as glue, even the brains found use as a treatment to tan the hide.  The proverb ‘willful waste makes woeful want’, ‘or waste not, want not’ isn’t an admonition insisting you finish your peas before watching television, or chiding you for not recycling; it’s probably the single most important piece of advice to keep in mind when survival is in question.

You’re on the run through the streets of your post-apocalyptic city, playing a lethal game of hide & seek with eight members of a scavenging pack of cannibals.  You have seven bullets in your gun, for every shot you waste, you’ll have to face another cannibal with your knife.   This part of conservation: always assume you only have almost enough to survive.  The goal isn’t to become a hoarder, with massive stockpiles of food, purified water, and ammunition; despite how useful it might be to have access to such a hoard, but to effectively manage your resources, and those available resources present in your environment.

Now, I don’t want to spend my time telling you a bunch of shit you already know, because that’s not useful for anyone; but lets get some groundwork laid that we can reference later.   The 3 rules of conservation:

1. Everything that you encounter exists as a result of the myriad factors and influences that led to this moment: everything is part of a system, whether or not it’s a system you can recognize, identify, or exploit is irrelevant.

2. Waste is a result of error. All processes produce products. Whether or not a product is waste is entirely dependent on the producer. Wasting resources is analogous to reducing the available resources in a system. The reduction of available resources can corrupt a system irredeemably.

3. Account for the presence of entropy; all practical systems will break down and change over time – mutating conditions, random occurrences, invisible (practically) influences. Entropy can be mitigated, but it cannot be eliminated; it is, in all practical respects, a fundamental law of the universe until we become gods enough to transgress it.

What does this actually mean?

1. Shit doesn’t happen out of nowhere, something always causes shit to happen.
2. If shit happens, it’s probably your fault, but it sucks for everyone.
3. Shit will happen.

Conservation is dependent on maximizing efficiency and minimizing shit.

By taking a larger view of our practices, we can increase efficiency and eliminate waste.  When making a wood fire to distill water, keep rocks in the firepit that will conserve heat and be used to cook with later, collect the wood ash to make lye and use as a flux for other processes, direct smoke through a chimney that can be used to smoke pottery, hide, food, keep the salt for curing meats and hides or as bait for animals… etc.

Again, always assume you have almost enough to survive, and look for ways to make up the deficit in everything you do. Every resource that you expend might be the difference between life and death.  A survival hunter will know, never shoot the first deer you see – if there’s one deer in the area, there’s bound to be another; and if another deer doesn’t come, then there’s a risk that the population is too low to hunt, find a new hunting ground or switch prey.  But really, asshole, I’m hungry, that deer is toast.  Well, you’re not keeping in mind the 3 rules of conservation.  You can’t eat thistle, grass, fern, etc; but that deer or that sheep or that cow or whatever, it can, and when it does it will turn that inedible crap into meat which you can eat.  If you kill all the deer or all the cows or whatever, you’ll just have that grass to eat and you’ll be fucked and die.  If you do kill an animal, make sure that you consider the impact it will have on the ecosystem, not for any hippy bullshit mother earth and nature bullshit, but because you need those fuckers to be there, reproducing and making more food.

In an urban survival setting, conservation becomes a more esoteric concept.  You’ll need to maintain supplies of uncontaminated food, clean water, medical supplies, ammunition, electricity, and so on… Conservation becomes a series of practical choices, each one impacting the others. If you choose to use your last AA battery to power your flashlight, then later on you’ll have to open a wine bottle by hand instead of using an electric cork screw – important decisions.  For real though, it’s all about energy – whether its joules, watts, or calories.  There is no perfect void within which actions have no consequences.

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